Most people who have been in the electronica scene have fantasized about being a DJ at least once. It must be amazing to see people dancing to the music you make, seeing how your music affects your fans, and getting paid to party, right?
Well, yes. Being a DJ is awesome at times, and it can be a great way to live out those high school fantasies you've had for all those years. They're popular, they have sexy girls approaching them, and they get paid to do what they love...
But, there's a lot that people don't know about being a DJ. Here are some of the things that people tend to overlook when they think about their DJ fantasies.
You will have to play politics in order to get venues to book you.
Nightclubs don't exactly advertise for DJs when they need a headliner. In fact, the only companies that will do that are those dinky little birthday party companies that are hired for middle school birthday parties. If you're wondering how to get bookings, it all comes down to who you know, what your mixes sound like, and how convincing you can be.
A huge portion of being able to actually get club bookings will fall on you being able to network with club promoters. That being said, a huge portion of your job is to be as good to promoters and club bookers as you can be. In many smaller cities, you may not even be able to get bookings if you have a falling out with promoters.
Advertising your remixes will become your fulltime job.
Even major record labels have a very hard time getting people to get into the artists they represent - and those artists often get signed after they've amassed a huge number of followers on their own. It's not like most people get record deals by just posting videos on YouTube or SoundCloud.
If you want to actually get people showing up to your sets, you will need to have a lot of advertising. This means you may have to do flyering on street corners, have a hyper-active social media presence, and basically run your own advertising firm with you being the sole client.
You remember how we said that schmoozing with promoters is a huge part of your ability to succeed as a DJ? The other half is advertising yourself. After all, if no one knows who you are, they won't show up to your concerts - and if no one shows up to your concerts, no one will book you after a while.
Drama will become your life.
Behind the velvet curtains, drama happens. A lot of drama.
Throwing good club parties, particularly in elite or underground scenes, means that everyone has to work together. The problem with this is that just about everyone in the scene tends to want to have their own spot in the sun, or has to deal with a diva in order to make things work for that particular night, or is just dealing with some personal stuff that bled into their work life.
As a DJ, you will try to avoid drama - and there's a good chance you will fail. There will be blowouts and you may end up losing your cool. This is part of club life, and as a DJ, you will come to expect it at times.
That being said, you should learn to develop a skill in smoothing out drama and keeping things professional if you want to keep getting gigs booked.
If you do become successful, you may have a very hard time figuring out who's your real friend.
Let's say that you do get star status, and that you end up playing venues like Webster Hall or the main stages at EDC. This in itself will lead to other problems - such as having people who are only your friend because you're a big name celebrity now.
The bigger you get, the more people will try to hurt you so that they can get where you are. There may be people who will pretend to be a sympathetic ear just so they can get dirt on you and throw you under the bus for the next gig.
Moreover, there will be a lot of people out there who are fake businessmen. They can talk the talk, but they won't ever walk the walk. If you put your faith in them, you will end up being disappointed at best - or ripped off at worst.
It's terrible, but those lines about life as a DJ from "I Took A Pill In Ibiza" are very spot-on:
"You don't ever wanna step off that roller coaster and be all alone
You don't wanna ride the bus like this
Never knowing who to trust like this
You don't wanna be stuck up on that stage singing..."
Obviously, not all electronica artists go through this as badly as you'd expect it to happen, but it happens enough that everyone who's been a DJ or a promoter has felt it at one point or another.
Most people can't survive off the fees they make as a DJ.
DJ gigs aren't as lucrative as you'd think, unless you really get high up in the ranks in your city. If you're stuck spinning at events at a dive bar, you might be lucky to get $200 for a single night of work. As a result, most DJs will only do it on the weekends as a way to earn extra money.
This leaves a lot of DJs working "main jobs" in order to just keep food in their mouths. Additionally, most booking companies out there don't offer health insurance because of the fact that it's a freelance position. So, if you get sick, you're doomed.
If you do make a living, expect to have to occasionally DJ for weddings and similarly un-glamorous things...at least, to start.
You know how cringey all those songs from the 90s that Aunt Bertha dances to when it's a family wedding? Yep, you're going to have to spin things like that occasionally if you want to make a living as a beginner DJ. And, yes, Aunt Bertha and Grandma Gertie will be there - along with that perennially present squalling newborn that always shows up at every wedding ever.
Simply put, these DJing gigs are lucrative - even if they aren't fun. So, if you want to make money as a DJ, particularly as a small town DJ, this will be your bread and butter.
Travel will become your life.
If you go on tour, or even if you go to local gigs, you will be on the road. No DJ just holes himself up in his house, unless he's working on mixes he's releasing to SoundCloud. As fun as travel can be, you will do it so frequently that it will become an exhausting chore.
You will likely spend at least three days a week outside of your house, on the road, as a DJ. As you get more famous, you will end up seeing that number go up.
Of the DJ's I've met, most of them have very small studio apartments - or just bunk with a bunch of other DJs. The reason why is because it just doesn't make sense for them to spend a lot of money on lodging because they're so often on the road.
Moreover, you aren't just traveling; you're also lugging all the DJ equipment you use around with you. It can be a lot to deal with, and usually, you're also the one doing all the setup work before the club starts to kick.
Relationships will often be strained - at least, love-wise.
Relationships take a lot of time and effort to work out - and sadly, the life of a DJ often means that you will have gigs pop up at the 11th hour, will work holidays, and also will have little time to be with your partner at the club.
Most women can't handle this kind of lifestyle. In fact, even if you are in the club scene, it's frustrating or even infuriating to deal with. Women want attention and time with you - but it's not something that you can often give as a DJ. So, even if you may like a girl, it often boils down to which you want more: love or music.
And yes, this comes from experience.